ELKHART — Had Indiana been in the Central time zone, a deadly crash on an icy Elkhart County bridge late last month could have been avoided, argues an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame and an Eastern time zone critic.
“You’d have an extra hour of sunlight and an extra hour for that ice to melt,” said John Gaski of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business and an advisory committee member on the Indiana Central Time Coalition.
While it’s not certain Gaski’s contention holds true, he’s adamant. And the Oct. 25 crash has revived his controversial call for all of Indiana to shift from the Eastern time zone to the Central time zone, an issue that surged in the intense 2005 state legislative debate that led to daylight saving time here.
“This will never be a dead issue until we’re in the Central time zone,” he said, also noting the risk he maintains that school children face going to school in the dark early morning hours of winter. Kids’ “lives are at stake.”
ICE AND A CRASH
The deadly crash Gaski alludes to occurred around 8:15 a.m. Oct. 25 when a sports utility vehicle slid on ice while crossing the C.R. 5 bridge over the Indiana Toll Road in northwestern Elkhart County. The SUV crashed into a cement barrier and then swerved into an oncoming pickup, leading to the deaths of Dawn Leatherman, who was driving the SUV, and Alice Barnes, a passenger in the SUV.
Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department officials, who responded to the crash, wouldn’t speculate on Gaski’s claim. Had Indiana been in the Central instead of the Eastern zone, though, the sun would have been out an hour longer, presuming Leatherman and Barnes were traveling at the same hour of the day, 8:15 a.m., potentially enough to melt the ice on the bridge, the Notre Dame official maintains.
Whatever the case, weather records for Oct. 25 indicate that the local temperature differential was minimal between 8:15 a.m., when Leatherman and Barnes were traveling, and 9:15 a.m., the hour, in the Eastern time zone, when they would have been traveling if Elkhart were in the Central zone. At 8:15 a.m., the Elkhart temperature hovered at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and it rose minimally into the low 30s by 9:15 a.m., according to data compiled by the Weather Underground, a weather website.
Similarly, bridges like the one where the Oct. 25 accident occurred are more susceptible to ice than roadways. Bridges, notes the Michigan Department of Transportation, “are open to the air above and below the pavement. This creates an environment where moisture can freeze faster than it does on the road because roads are ‘insulated’ from below by the ground.”
‘BODIES IN THE STREET’
Gaski argues that Indiana should go to the Central time zone largely due to safety concerns. The extra hour of morning light gained by shifting time zones would make it safer, in particular, for children going to school in the early morning when it’s still dark.
“This should be considered an emergency situation,” said Gaski, who thinks the Eastern time zone should extend westward only as far as central Ohio. “You have bodies in the street because of this situation, especially children.”
According to a tally of “student incidents” on the Indiana Central Time Coalition website, based on news reports, six children and one bus driver have been killed across Indiana since 2007 in early-morning incidents while heading to school. There have also been numerous reports of abductions, attempted abductions, robberies and rapes.
The varied incidents occurred between 5:45 a.m. and 7:47 a.m., according to the tally, though the precise role — if any — of lighting isn’t specified.
That being in the Eastern time zone and recognizing daylight saving time creates increased early-morning darkness in Indiana isn’t a misconception.
According to numbers cited in a 2012 study authored by Gaski, the number of sunrises after 7:30 a.m. in Indianapolis increased from 92 per year to 158 because of daylight saving time, voted in by Indiana lawmakers in 2005 and implemented in 2006. In Chicago, by contrast, there are no sunrises after 7:30 a.m., according to the report. Chicago is located in the Central time zone and the state recognizes daylight saving time.
Whatever the case, school officials in Elkhart County express a mix of views.
The Goshen School Board voted last April to put Goshen Community Schools on a list of more than 40 Indiana school districts that back shifting to Central time. Such a shift would make travel to school safer because of increased sunlight and lead to fewer weather delays, according to the Goshen resolution.
By contrast, Wayne Stubbs, superintendent of Concord Community Schools, doesn’t consider the time zone issue a matter of urgency.
No matter the zone, “we’re going to have kids going in the morning when it’s dark, especially in the winter months,” Stubbs said. He can’t point to any incidents involving kids resulting from early-morning darkness and notes that most kids in the district don’t walk to school. Rather, they take buses to school or get driven.
NOT A LIKELY ISSUE IN INDY
It’s hardly a sure bet that lawmakers will take up Gaski’s time zone call, notwithstanding his passion. Gaski said the issue has been brought up by state lawmakers in Indianapolis perhaps two or three times in the last five years, never gaining traction.
Indiana Rep. Tim Neese, a Republican from Elkhart, said he’s unaware of any moves to take up the matter in the coming 2014 legislative session, and he rarely gets comments on it from constituents. Similarly, Courtney Arango, spokeswoman for several state GOP lawmakers from northern Indiana, said the consensus among the officials is that the issue won’t likely emerge in the near term.
Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, if he had his druthers, would put Indiana in the Central time zone and do away with daylight saving time.
That said, the issue rarely comes up anymore among constituents. On the positive side, Yoder notes that the shift to daylight saving time in 2006 put Indiana in line, year-round, with lower Michigan, just to the north. He questions the contention that being in the Eastern time zone leads to more crashes given the many factors that figure in accidents and said since the 2005 daylight saving time debate, he’s moved on.
“We all just kind of deal with it and go on with life,” he said.